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Poet's Sampler:
Donald Hall introduces Cynthia Huntington

In 1986 Cynthia Huntington published her first book of poems, The Fish-Wife. Like most first books, it was the product and residue of many years, of eclectic habits of language, of several poets learning to become one poet. The poems printed in this Sampler come from a subsequent, unpublished collection, We Have Gone to the Beach. Some poets write by the word, some by image or phrase, many by the line; Cynthia Huntington writes poems by the sentence, punctuated by the line, and by a vocabulary of nice distinctions. Hers is a poetry of wit, surprise, observation, and exemplary intelligence. She holds, as she tells us, "in one hand/a wish, in the other a turd" (talk about nice distinctions) and asks: "What if you died without books or children,/like Jesus, or Buddha, or Amelia Earhart, died/intact and singular, a genius of self-respect?" Reading her sentences, the leap from word to word provides a distance like turning the page: What will she think of next? Surfeited by a poetry of sensitive recollection, I welcome and admire Cynthia Huntington's poetry of the intellect laid out in a brawny unpredictable style.

-Donald Hall


Like a black car going off the road,

turning into weeds, nudging under the bridge

into high weeds, its fins black ears

pointing backwards to hear what was said

before going past. Like a low blue

Thunderbird black in the night

glistening, like the midnight whisper

of the engine running low, and the radio

whispering, whimpering, whispering,

whimpering, the ears laid back stroked

by down-hanging branches of willow. Soft,

like the first taste of beer, half-warm

from the can, sweet, skunky taste of it,

burning, bitter, in back of the throat.

Summer night in the front seat, three

of them there and the girl, seventeen,

downing Colts; he warns and she

faster boldly swallows

while her friend sips cautiously

lapping the egde of can, tasting foam,

aluminum, lipstick, smelling it. Stale.

How the sweat seeps out of you,

pink checked shorts, backs of thighs

sticky on the plastic seatcovers

and he drops his arm across the seat back

behind his girlfriend and his hand

almost to the window caresses the knob

of the girlfriend's friend's bare shoulder.

And talking the whole while, then get out

to piss behind the car, a hand steadying

against the hot black of the bumper.

Soon they've wandered, fumbling, soft,

into weeds by the creekside; seventeen

feels sick, groans and says leave me

alone, goes into the tall grass moving

like china, and sixteen in the lock

of darkness silently opens like a cloth unfolding

there in the grass, in the invisible dark,

simply falls beneath the boy and takes him in

-- like that, completely that -- it will never

be like that again, it is all lost

for good, in the invisible dark.


Under their silence I think of squandered time.

How they grow tall in constancy,

taller than women or horses,

uninterrupted by news.

The trees are slender and speechless;

narrow leaves drop from the green

branches ... one there ... one there ... slowly

falling through the dust motes, in daily sun.

These are the trees of hell, graciously risen,

ascended by will through chaos, to be made here.

Those are the serpent's twistings that turn them

downward as they rise, rising with everything

they are, carrying that conflict into light.

I lie here or walk beneath them on the grass;

the traffic passes spewing noise and they are

waving in the quietest, highest sky,

like nothing ever waved, like original breath.

To see them I must almost fall backward.

How can I stop saying this?

Why is it necessary to stop saying it?

Because I cannot listen.

It is not possible to hate what is created.

Here it is no longer possible.

Those noisy ones, the mind's accusations,

years of anger at nothing. All those years

the trees were growing,

rising, being lifted. So they chose

to grow. And here I am suffered to return

and here remain. Lord, we love you,

we see your face in the water fountain,

in reflections of leaves. Your face is dirty, Lord.

So many touching you. But it's your dirt.

When the water is dirty, water washes it.

Lord of shiny bottlecaps, snails and dead cigarettes,

god of flies, there's a shadow on the ground.

Under the shadow, a shadow.


Beat it with a shoe

because it can't talk, because it won't shut up,

because it makes those noises about its loneliness

endlessly. Beat it with a shoe

over and over, beside the door, on the balcony,

back into the room. Beat it

because you've had enough. Beat that shoe

your foot's orphan, like a leather club

against its side, around its head, with short sharp blows.

Beat it to make it stop crying.

Show you mean business.

Because it's dumb, because you told it once

or a thousand times; beat it because it ought to know

better by now. Beat it with a shoe

because it feels good --

beat it until it feels good.

Beat the crap out of it. Beat it senseless. Beat it

within an inch. Because it's worthless and dumb,

shitty, and loud, and dirty.

Beat it because there is pain in the world.

Beat it because it's yours.


The discount drugstore, the last place,

is closing in ten minutes.

There's just me over here by the paperbacks,

and three teenage boys

analyzing rock magazines,

and the cashier getting ready to go home.

Next door the jeweler's window

lights up green velvet cases,

empty, with dents in them. A white plaster

hand has taken off its rings

and bracelets for the night.

Stage lights in Woolworth's windows

glow up against packages and kitchen ware;

the travel agency sulks behind paper blinds.

Drinking coffee after supper

at six I was almost the last to leave,

watching the waitress pile up dishes, people

pick up their coats and put down change.

The cashier holds a big ring of keys,

standing looking hopeful. I'm going.

On the street it's quiet, not too cold.

I'm out of it when the movie window shuts,

lowering a little board over the glass mousehole

where you reach in with money

and the light cuts your arm at the wrist.

Now the crowd is locked in for the show.

The manager who sells tickets

has gone inside to be with them.

The Lamplighter Bar

has two orange-pineapple lights over the door

and on the back wall the stuffed

head of a deer, antlers five points,

wears an Easter lily up his nose.

The traffic light

directs a single car to stop, then go.

I'm walking.

This is the republic at peace, this is what

all the fuss was about, to make the world safe

for; now nothing is happening, you can relax.

Far from oceans, from cities,

far from any border, nothing can touch it.

Beyond this street the streets do not have lights.

They know their way.


Is shut out on a balcony above the street.

He is a prisoner among us, crying

The awful boredom of observation, the unending

Hours of afternoon empty to a creature

Of smell and chase. His poor eyes see shadows

Pass below; they are unsatisfactory.

Voices come from nowhere. They do not hear him.

Why does he live? He tries to howl but sound

Flattens in a bred-thin throat. Whoever owns him

Consigns him to nothing when they go away.

Across the street, I hear the constant sound of nothing

Lashing him. He gives up, and then gives up

Giving up, and cries again. Desire

Won't let him alone: to be with the world

Beyond him, to move among things and creatures,

To be where we are passing and meeting. But he is not

One of us; it is not his world. He wears a collar

And prances unnaturally along a fence, pressing

The edge, walking upright begging, and is refused,

Put out, tied up, and kept.

"The Place of Beautiful Trees" first appeared in AGNI
and "Passing Through Hometown" first appeared in
The Kenyon Review.

Originally published in the January-February 1993 issue of Boston Review

Copyright Boston Review, 1993–2005. All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce without permission.

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